Think of all the opinions people solicit when choosing a restaurant, a vacation spot or even a new pair of shoes. When it comes to their health, however, many don’t seek the opinion of a second medical professional, even if they’re unsure or uncomfortable with the first diagnosis and treatment plan they receive. They might not know how to go about getting a second opinion or think it will be expensive or aren’t sure what type of doctor to speak to, but it can be an important step to take.
“Second opinions can be useful in many situations,” said Andrea Brokaw, a consumer advocacy product director at Optum. “You’re the one who is ultimately responsible for your own health care, so it makes sense to gather as much information and informed advice as you need to help you make a decision you can feel comfortable with.”
You most likely won’t get a second opinion when you have a routine medical issue like an ear infection or sprained ankle, but there are scenarios when it’s especially important to consider seeking a review of your health situation, such as:
- If you’ve been newly diagnosed with a condition.
- If you’ve received a treatment plan you’re uncertain about, especially if it recommends surgery or another invasive procedure.
- If you’re struggling with a chronic disease.
It’s an added step for a patient to seek out an additional consultation, but the data shows that it may lead to less-invasive solutions and better outcomes.
“In 70 percent of the cases we’ve tracked1, a more appropriate treatment option is discovered,” Brokaw said. “In 20 percent of cases, an alternative diagnosis is given. Surgery is voluntarily canceled by 34 percent of people after their second opinion visit because a more conservative treatment option was made available to them.”
Some patients may feel hesitant or nervous when deciding whether to get a second opinion due to worrying that it might damage their relationship with their primary doctor. They needn’t worry, as second opinions are now considered the norm and encouraged by many doctors.
Brokaw also notes that your doctor won’t know whether you got another consultation unless you decide to share that information. “It’s okay to seek an opinion, then decide how – or if – you want to let your doctor know about that later,” she said.
Many services have emerged to manage the process of getting an expert’s review of your medical case. These often are offered as an employer benefit at no cost, and patients can get an opinion much more quickly than finding and arranging appointments on their own.
UnitedHealthcare works with 2nd.MD to offer second opinions. The service makes it easier by managing the sharing of medical records and arranging a video consultation with nationally recognized specialists in the field, typically within three to five days.
Consult your own employer or insurance provider to see if a second opinion service is part of your benefits.
Deciding to seek a second opinion can help you make more informed choices regarding your health. You may discover additional treatment options that are a better fit for you and your lifestyle.
“It helps promote more peace of mind. You really have nothing to lose by learning as much as you can about what’s happening with your health,” Brokaw said.
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